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Friday, 24 October 2014

Vaz blasts Police over Cliff Richard raid

The Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons has today published its report, Police, the media, and high-profile criminal investigations. The Report considers the events surrounding the police raid on 14 August of the home of Sir Cliff Richard OBE in Berkshire, and the circumstances under which the BBC came to have advance information about the raid.

Conclusions of the report:
  • Police sometimes decide to publicise the name of the subject of an investigation for operational reasons, for example, to encourage potential witnesses to come forward. However, the naming of suspects (or the confirming of a name when it is put to a force) when there is no operational need to do so is wrong.
  • When a BBC reporter threatened to break the story prematurely unless he was given inside access to the raid on Sir Cliff’s home, South Yorkshire Police should not have tried to cut a deal with him, but rather approached senior BBC executives to explain the damage that such premature disclosure could do to the investigation. The BBC’s Director General, Lord Hall, confirmed to the Committee that the BBC would act on such requests from Chief Constables.
  • In the absence of any such approach from South Yorkshire, the BBC was well within its rights to run the story, although as a result Sir Cliff himself has suffered enormous, irreparable damage to his reputation.
  • It appears from near-contemporaneous notes that the BBC reporter clearly identified the source of his leak as Operation Yewtree. It is unfortunate therefore that South Yorkshire Police did not notify the Metropolitan Police so that the source of the Yewtree leak could be investigated.
Chairman of the Committee, 
Keith Vaz, said: "South Yorkshire Police's handling of this situation was utterly inept. The Force allowed itself to hand over sensitive information to a journalist and granted him privileged access to the execution of a search warrant. The email exchanges could easily be mistaken for a script from "The Bill". The Force should have refused to cooperate and explained to senior BBC News executives why the premature broadcasting of a story, which they claimed the journalist threatened, would have prejudiced the investigation.

No British citizen should have to watch their home being raided by the police live on television. Sir Cliff Richard has suffered enormous and irrepreable damage to his reputation and he is owed an apology over the way matters were handled. We are not suprised that he wishes to sell his home.

Police forces should consider carefully how they deal with approaches from journalists on such matters in the future. Someone in possession of sensitive information decided to leak details of the investigation to the media. We deplore this. South Yorkshire assert that the journalist stated it came from Operation Yewtree. The journalist denies this. South Yorkshire should have alerted the Metropolitan Police immediately. Their reasons for failing to do so are unsustainable.”

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Osborne announces £150m for clinical research

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, today announced a £150 million investment in the UK’s clinical research infrastructure. The Chancellor announced the funding, while visiting the University of Exeter, which is home to one of 23 key projects that will benefit from this funding at centres located around the country.

The Treasury has worked with the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) to allocate £150m of funding to the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Clinical Research Capital Initiative. This money adds to the £80m funding also pledged to the initiative by the MRC, devolved authorities, universities, and charities, bringing the total capital to over £230 million.

The investment presents a unique opportunity to enhance the UK’s clinical research capabilities and will focus particularly on developing ground breaking technologies and experimental medicines. Examples of the projects benefiting from the investment include:

  • The institute of Cancer Research hoping to revolutionise radiation treatment by targeting tumours more accurately;
  • The team made up from seven of our top universities who are working together to advance the next frontier on molecular biology, single-cell genomics; and, 
  • The teams from the University of Leeds and York who are pioneering the SABRE imaging method to increase the signal of an MRI image up to 100,000 times. 
The work of these and the other 23 projects will help in identifying the causes of conditions and diseases such as cancer and dementia, and dramatically speeding up diagnosis and treatment.

Commenting Chancellor George Osborne said: "The UK is already a world leader in science and research, which is why at the Budget, I protected science spending. Today we go a step further by announcing £150 million of new investment in clinical research infrastructure. The funding will go to 23 truly innovative projects from across the UK today that represent the best of British ingenuity and scientific exploration. The Government, charities, universities and industry will be working together to advance our knowledge in combatting the biggest medical challenges of our time. "

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman said: "We want to make the UK the best place in the world for life sciences. Building on our existing research infrastructure this investment will speed up the innovation of experimental medicine, strengthen partnerships with industry and charities and boost our economic growth in this exciting sector."

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said: "The Government entrusted £150 million of funding to this initiative. With generous contributions from Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and other partners, we have been able to invest over £230 million in a collaboration that will catalyse innovation and advance our knowledge in completely new areas of research."

NHS five-year view 'endorses' Labour's plan for the NHS ­- and 'raises big questions for David Cameron'

A major NHS review has warned that Tory spending plans for the NHS would leave a large funding gap and would not be enough to prevent an NHS crisis in the next Parliament. This follows a warning this week by the Conservative Chair of the Health Select Committee that a continuation of current Conservative plans could lead to "top-ups and charges" for NHS treatment.

Labour has already made a commitment to raise an extra £2.5 billion a year for the NHS through a Mansion Tax on the highest-value properties over £2million , tackling tax avoidance and a new levy on tobacco companies. David Cameron was asked today to match Labour's additional £2.5billion for the NHS and failed to do so.

The review also endorses key planks of Labour's NHS plan, including:
  • full integration of NHS and social care and a greater role for Health & Well-being Boards;
  • better access to primary care through recruiting more GPs;
  • faster access to cancer tests, as set out by Ed Miliband last weekend;
  • a stronger focus on public health with action on food reformulation and tobacco;
  • new rights and support for carers; and
  • a shift towards a preventative NHS with mental health care at the centre.
Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham MP, commenting said: "This report lays bare the inadequacy of Tory funding plans for the NHS which, if left unchanged, will trigger an NHS crisis in the next Parliament. David Cameron's decisions will leave patients facing even longer waits and raise the spectre that a re-elected Tory Government would have to introduce rationing, cuts and charges.

Continuing Mr Burnham said: "I am encouraged by the authoritative endorsement for Labour's plan for the NHS, including full integration of health and social care with more support provided in the home. This important reform, alongside Labour's extra £2.5 billion investment in the NHS- on top of Conservative spending plans - through a Mansion Tax and a levy on tobacco companies, will go a long way towards solving the financial challenge. Labour today welcomes this report and calls on the Government to say whether it is prepared to match our plans."

Responding to the NHS 5-year plan for the Liberal Democrats, Health Minister, Norman Lamb said: "Liberal Democrats want to create opportunity for everyone by building a stronger economy and a fairer society. That means properly funding our NHS for the future and providing better care, both for physical and mental health.

Criticising Labour's record Norman Lamb said: "Over 13 years, Labour wasted money with PFI schemes and sweetheart deals for private companies and now they are wrecking the NHS in Wales – cutting the budget by 8%, missing targets on A&E and cancer treatment and presiding over the worst ambulance response times in the UK. They refused to protect NHS funding in this Parliament and they can’t be trusted with it in Government again. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls would wreck the recovery and you can’t have well-funded public services without a strong economy.

Talking about the Tories Mr Lamb said: "The Conservatives are not promising anything more than protecting the NHS budget in real terms. "If that's the deal, the NHS would crash. The Tories are totally failing to recognise the need for more resources to deal with the growing pressures on the NHS as we all live longer, often with chronic conditions.

Commenting on what the Lib Dems propose "Only the Liberal Democrats are calling for more funding next year and at least one billion more in each year after that. We are the only party that will invest more in our public services once we have finished the job of clearing the deficit in 2018. We are the only party putting equality for mental health treatment front and centre of our manifesto, with £500m of extra funding.

“And we are the only party calling for real improvement from the bottom up, joining up health and care to give people care closer to home. Much of Simon Steven’s report is in line with Liberal Democrat policy. The priority given to mental health is extremely welcome. Recognising and supporting the needs of carers is vital. And getting hospital teams to work more closely with GPs, and GPs to work together to deliver care is an important step in providing care closer to home.”

Boris unleashes power of city data

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, today announced that City Hall is to radically upgrade its data-sharing portal by adding reams of new city data and making it easier for it to be used to make the capital an even better place to live, work and visit. The London Datastore 2 is a free and open resource where anyone can use vast amounts of data relating to the city.

Datastore 2 builds on the success of City Hall's original Datastore, which was released online by the Mayor four years ago in a bid to improve the transparency of the Mayoralty and to give the public access to previously unavailable data on a range of issues, including health, crime figures, employment statistics and carbon emissions indicators. Since it was launched, Datastore has led to the creation of more than 200 apps, such as the Citymapper travel app, which has now been exported to some of the biggest cities in the world, and the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis' Bike Share Map, which shows bike hire usage and docking station availability in London and a range of cities globally. The site attracts 30,000 'unique' visitors a month.

Developed for the Mayor of London's Office by Datapress, Datastore 2 has been vastly improved from a technical perspective and marks a significant step in London's journey towards using data to improve city services and quality of life. It is aimed predominantly at private sector businesses, professional city data organisations, academics, the London boroughs and public services, and is designed to act as a 'marketplace' for ideas and collaborative efforts.

Initially containing more than 580 datasets, the portal responds to objectives set out in the Mayor's Smart London Plan and provides a collaborative space where numerous datasets, ranging from population figures to interactive maps of start-up friendly office spaces can be shared and added to.

New datasets on the system include the latest information on broadband connectivity levels so that businesses can choose where to locate to and to influence the market to improve services to homes and businesses. It also contains a detailed overview of planning permissions granted across the entire city, with up-to-date information on completions and the development pipeline to help developers choose the best sites for new schemes. Users can also make requests for data releases and suggest analyses to solve the city's most pressing problems.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said: "The superb and much improved Datastore 2 aims to make the best use possible of an encyclopaedic amount of information about our great city. I am sure that it will provide a wealth of material that the world's brightest minds will be able to use to develop new insight and apps that can be used to solve the big city problems that we face on a daily basis."

Kit Malthouse, deputy Mayor for business and enterprise said: "The capacity of big data to deliver insight and value that can change the way London, its communities and services work is only now beginning to be properly realised. As with the city itself, the London data ecosystem bristles with energy and we look forward to expanding Datastore 2 over time so that decisions about the future of the city and informed with the very latest data."

The Mayor also announced today that City Hall will host a series of City Data Challenges - events where sophisticated analytics will be used to help solve problems affecting city services in a bid to generate economic or practical social value. The first City Data Challenge will investigate pressures created by the rise of so-called 'Generation Y' - those born between 1980 and 2000.

In addition, the Mayor is also keen to hear from anyone who has ideas for how London's data can be deployed in pursuit of a better city, with winning ideas progressed alongside City Data Challenge topics.

The capacity of shared city data to address urban problems and improve city life is becoming apparent as world leaders in urban analytics like New York University's Centre for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) look to expand into London, through a partnership with King's College London and the University of Warwick. This will only add to the significant existing expertise in the city's world-class academic institutions. In addition, the Future Cities Catapult is currently conducting an experiment called Whereabouts London that blends 235 sets of data to help cities and citizens exploit its potential by looking at their environment in a new light.

Organisations such as the Open Data Institute and Future Cities Catapult did not exist when the original Datastore was first launched. These organisations play a vital part in the mission to unlock the supply of statistics and ensure that it is used to maximum effect in the pursuit of economic, environmental and social value.

The Mayor's Office has also committed to a series of practical measures. City Hall will publish all of the information under the Open Data Institute's open data certification scheme, so that users have confidence in its origin, when it will appear next in what format. City Hall has also produced an Open Data Charter to set out deliberately straightforward ground rules to promote best practice in city data use.

Professor David Gann CBE, Vice President, Development and Innovation, Imperial College London and Chairman of the Smart London Board said: "Data is the fuel that powers modern cities. Making data available for citizens and businesses helps engagement, improves transparency and creates opportunities to develop new services. The new version of the London Datastore aims to encourage collaboration across London's rich data landscape. The Smart London Board, is delighted to support the Datastore as a mustering point for the 'creative processing power' of academia, the private and public sector so that we can fully capitalise on the potential of open city data."

Dr Jeni Tennison, OBE, Technical Director of the Open Data Institute said: "I am delighted to see the Greater London Authority take another important step towards creating an open data city, through the launch of London Datastore Version II. It's particularly good to see the GLA taking the next step beyond simply making data available, by making firm commitments in an Open Data Charter, opening up the use of the London Datastore to boroughs and other parties, and committing to increasing the quality of published data using the ODI's own Open Data Certificates as a measure. Taken together, these steps mark a more mature approach to using open data within the city to improve people's lives, economic opportunities, and the city environment."

Peter Madden, Chief Executive of the Future Cities Catapult and Smart London Board member said: "Data will increasingly drive how we run our cities and our businesses. London is a melting pot for urban innovation and the GLA is right to emphasise the importance of data itself and the role government can play in harnessing innovation. We look forward to working together to apply the London Datastore to solving real problems."

Dr Rick Robinson, IBM Executive Architect for Smarter Cities and member of the Smart London Board said: "IBM believes that open data policies and big data from systems such as transport, water, health, wellbeing and the local economy are the new natural resource for cities in the 21st Century, Thanks to the leadership of the Mayor of London the new London Datastore will put the city in a great position to benefit from the power of technology by providing a vital tool to help citizens, communities and businesses make the best of the opportunities available in a modern global city like London."

Brenna Berman, Commissioner and Chief Information Officer, Chicago City of Chicago, Department of Innovation and Technology said: "London and Chicago are passionate leaders in the field of open city data and we can learn much from collaborating. We both have a desire to ensure data is used to improve decision making, so that government is truly optimising the opportunities it has to improve residents' lives. Partnerships are a vital piece of the jigsaw, so it is interesting to see what London is doing with regard to stimulating more data-led innovation."

In July, the Mayor launched his 2050 London Infrastructure Plan - the first attempt to set out the full range of infrastructure requirements for the capital over the next half century, during which time the population of London is forecast to increase to more than 11 million people. The Plan recognises the vital role that data will play in supporting future infrastructure development and Datastore 2 will help to ensure that infrastructure investment is targeted towards exactly where it is needed.

Study shows Scotland rejects 'euro-hostile' Westminster agenda

New analysis reported today showing that the vast majority of constituencies in Scotland back staying in the EU whilst the majority in England back an exit shows that Scotland rejects the Euro-hostile consensus building at Westminster – and needs its own voice in Europe.

A study carried out by Durham University and the University of East Anglia finds that while voters in the majority of constituencies in England would vote to leave the EU only four seats in Scotland would back an EU exit. The study also finds that some of the UK constituencies least supportive of an EU exit are in Scotland – and no Scottish seat is in the 150 most supportive of an exit.

Dr Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia said “What this analysis shows is that Scottish views on the European Union are distinct from English views. Even looking at constituencies just north of the border – areas that are by no means bedrocks of SNP support – you find a more favourable opinion of the EU than you do in the north of England.”

Commenting, SNP MSP James Dornan said: "This is yet further evidence of the fact that Scotland rejects the Euro-hostile consensus that is building at Westminster – and wants to work in partnership with our allies in the EU, rather than risking isolation and irrelevance like David Cameron, who is more concerned about Nigel Farage and UKIP than about representing Scotland’s interests."

Continuing Mr Dornan commented: "As an independent report published by EY ITEM Club just this week made clear uncertainty over the UK’s position in the EU is jeopardising investment and could see a slowdown in growth – putting Scottish jobs at risk. This is exactly why the 'extensive new powers' promised to Scotland in the Vow should allow us to speak with a stronger and clearer voice on the European stage, rather than being represented by a Westminster establishment dancing to UKIP’s tune."

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

‘Nasty party’ tag shared by UKIP and the Tories

UKIP and the Conservative Party now share the "nasty Party" tag according to a new ITV News / ComRes poll. Around a third of Britons associate the phrase "nasty" with the Conservatives (30%) and UKIP (32%), compared to just 18% who say the same about Labour.

While just one in seven (14%) describe Labour as having a strong leader, the Conservatives and UKIP are tied on 32%.

The description most associated with the Conservative Party is "divided" (45%), but it is also seen by 37% of voters as "having the competence to govern" - significantly higher than the 26% of voters who think Labour has the competence to govern. Despite the Liberal Democrats four years in government, just one in twelve (8%) Britons associate the Party with having the competence to govern.

While UKIP describes itself as the "People's Army", more of the public think Labour "stands up for people like me" than UKIP (28% Labour, 23% UKIP).

Most voters (59%) say they do not associate any party with keeping its promises. The fragmentation of the British party system is clear: when asked which party has the best policies for Britain's future, 27% say the Conservatives, 23% Labour, 19% UKIP, 8% Lib Dem, 7% Green, and 28% think none of them.

Tom Mludzinski, Head of Political Polling at ComRes said: "None of the parties come out of this particularly well. While UKIP now share the "nasty" mantle, once held by the Conservatives the strength of Nigel Farage as a leader is also evident. While voters hate seeing a divided Party, the Conservatives also lead on competence, something the Liberal Democrats have failed to reap any benefits on despite tough decisions made in office."

Tory MEPs split three ways in election of the new European Commission

Today MEPs from across Europe elected the new European Commission for the next five years - 2014-2019. The process included the election of David Cameron’s nominee for Commissioner for Financial Services, Lord Hill. Conservative MEPs split into the for, against and abstain column. The news comes after it was confirmed that David Cameron had just this week called on Tory MEPs to vote in favour of the new Commission and Commissioner, only six were loyal to their leader.

“Downing Street is now applying pressure to get Conservative MEPs to vote in favour of the Juncker Commission” ConservativeHome, 20 October, 2014

Pat McFadden MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Europe, speaking after Conservative MEPs defied David Cameron and split three ways in voting on the European Commission, said: "Today Tory MEPs ignored David Cameron’s pleas and voted against his own choice of candidate for the UK’s Commissioner. We know that David Cameron can’t control his own backbenchers in Westminster on Europe, and now it seems he’s lost control of his MEPs too.

"It is in Britain’s interests to have the British nominated Commissioner in charge of the financial services brief, but many Conservative MEPs have just voted against this. The appointment of a new European Commission represents an important opportunity for reform in Europe which must be seized by the Prime Minister, and not squandered. But at the very time when Britain should be leading the debate on reform, the Conservatives are instead relegating themselves to the fringes in Europe, undermining both their impact and Britain’s influence as a result.”


Tory MEPs’ votes breakdown

Against
1. Nirj Deva
2. Daniel Hannan
3. Emma McClarkin

Abstained
1. David Campbell Bannerman
2. Ian Duncan
3. Vicky Ford
4. Jacqui Foster
5. Ashley Fox
6. Syed Kamall
7. Charles Tannock
8. Geoffrey Van Orden
9. Andrew Lewer

In favour
1. Richard Ashworth
2. Julie Girling
3. Sajjad Karim
4. Timothy Kirkhope
5. Anthea McIntyre
6. Kay Swinburne